Upon entering the Asian Art Museum between June 5 and August 15, you’ll find North Court transformed by Zhu Jinshi’s Boat — a colossal 40-foot sculpture suspended from the ceiling. You can walk through the sculpture’s center and examine its delicate construction, row upon row of bamboo rods suspended from cotton threads and draped with crumpled Xuan paper. The artist calls this experience a “symbolic journey,” one that may block out the noise of the world. He describes the work as an attempt “to infinitely extend every moment,” using the movement of the boat — its ability to drift in any direction in the water — as an analogy for the extension of time and experience.
On loan from the Rubell Family Collection in Miami, Boat came to us in pieces, including 19 25-quart bins full of precrumpled Xuan paper — a specialized paper used primarily for traditional Chinese landscape ink paintings.
“The artwork consists of several thousands of sheets,” says Patrick Gillespie, head of preparation. “Our prep team spent a great deal of time just unfolding all the pieces.”
Boat, 2012, by Zhu Jinshi (Chinese, b. 1954). Xuan paper, bamboo, and cotton thread. Courtesy of Rubell Family Collection, Miami. © Zhu Jinshi, © ARS, New York.
The installation of Boat began with a truss, the only part of the process handled by an outside contractor. After the truss was installed in North Court, our preparation team hung cables from it and attached those to a set of stainless steel tubes. They then tied cotton threads to the tubing (roughly 97 pieces of string per tube, coming to about one string per inch of tube). The threads were trimmed according to a 13-foot circular aluminum pattern, which guided the positioning of one hundred pieces of bamboo rod (roughly 10 feet in length) into a cylinder shape with Boat’s circumference (more than 13 feet). The hanging threads were tied to the bamboo rods, and once the rods were secure, the prep team added the finishing touch, hand draping approximately 4,500 sheets of paper.
“We’ve redirected the vents in North Court, so the sculpture doesn’t ripple,” said Gillespie. “That way it will only shift and flutter as people walk through it, which is a big part of the experience of the work.”
Our education team caught the installation process on film and has created a time-lapse video detailing the painstaking construction of this monumental sculpture. See the video above.